When Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939 following the German invasion of Poland, it was immediately decided to suspend the Science Fiction Association and the British Interplanetary Society for the duration. However, while the last official meeting of the SFA was held in August 1939 regular weekly meetings continued to be held at the Flat until Christmas, and after that for a while at the Red Bull. As Carnell commented at the time: "We've never had such good attendances as we have since disbanding."
The outbreak of war also caused the demise of the Leeds group. As Rosenblum later recalled:
"...within one month there was no Leeds group. Of the four executives one was a Territorial who was immediately called up; one joined the RAMC, being a qualified chemist, and three weeks later was the youngest sergeant at his depot by 12 years; and a third was stranded outside Britain where he had been when war was declared. Your scribe was the fourth. And the rank and file gradually became another type of rank and file. Our numbers had stayed steady at around the dozen; a hard core of eight and a constant joining of new members who drifted away in ones and were replaced by others. The average age by 1939 was 19 to 21."
As always, there were those who could see opportunities in almost any situation. In the editorial on the front page of the October 1939 catalogue of the Science Fiction Service, Ted Carnell struck a cheery note:
"The existence of a general Blackout and consequent reduction in sources of entertainment is a strong encouragement to resort to good reading matter, and we suggest to our Clients that a worthwhile method of spending the long dark hours gradually encroaching upon us is to steep the intellect in a steady stream of science-fiction."
Also in October, Carnell launched POSTAL PREVIEW, which appeared twice-monthly and carried snippets of SF news. Printed on a postcard, PREVIEW saw 22 issues, the final one appearing in September 1940. There was at least one foolscap-sized issue published after 1950.
This was the period of the 'Phoney War', the calm before the coming nightmare, and for young fans of the time there was much to worry about. In the years immediately preceeding World War II it was impossible for a young man of conscriptable age (a category into which most fans then fell) to regard the worsening situation in Europe with anything other than deep unease, and there was much discussion in fanzines of the possibility of war. Many expressed pacifist convictions, both here and in the US, but when it came to the crunch few were able to act on their convictions. Among those who sought to become Conscientious Objectors, however, were most of the major active British fans of the day, such as Douglas Webster, John F. Burke, Dave McIlwain, Walter Gillings, R.G. Medhurst, and Ron Holmes, who was assigned to a Pacifist Service Unit in Liverpool. C.S.Youd was initially a pacifist but soon changed his mind, going on to argue against it with people such as Burke. For reasons we shall go into later, Mike Rosenblum was to be the most significant British fan to become a CO. After being thoroughly quizzed about fans and fandom he was assigned to farm work near his home in Leeds. Others accepted conscription philosophically and the first to enter the armed forces was Maurice Hanson, who was actually called up on National Service before war was declared (the government having introduced conscription in April 1939). He was the first of many, and soon found himself heading for France with the British Expeditionary Force.
Ordinarily, one would have expected the Army to receive most fannish conscripts with the Navy and the Air Force splitting the remainder between them, but it didn't work out that way. In actual fact, the majority of fans who wereconscripted ended up in the RAF and hardly any in the Navy. This was presumably because most fans stated a preference for the RAF and had a number of things in common (ie. being predominantly middle-class, literate, and interested in science) that the RAF was looking for. Of those taken by the Army, almost half were assigned to the Royal Corps of Signals, presumably because once actually in the Army it was adjudged that those shared characteristics mentioned above made them ideal for Signals.
In September 1939, shortly after Hanson's departure, Bill Temple got married and Joan, his wife, moved in, but the Flat was not to be their married home for long. Soon Arthur C.Clarke was called up by the RAF, but being in a reserved occupation this was deferred. Nonetheless, he had to move to Colwyn Bay in North Wales where he was to work on the Holleriths that produced ration cards for the Ministry of Food (Holleriths being 'computers' that were actually little more than punched-card sorters). With Bill and Joan Temple unable to afford the rent on their own, and despite the three year lease still having eighteen months to run, it was clear that the days of the Flat were numbered. On Friday 22nd December the last SFA meeting to be held there took place. As well as Clarke and the Temples, those who turned up were Ken and Joan Chapman, Ted and Irene Carnell, Frank Arnold, Harry Kay, R.G.Medhurst, and Sid Bircby (who had been called up by the army ten days earlier, but not yet sent away from London). After a session in the Red Bull drinking and playing pin-table most of the group retired to the flat to play 'Lexicon' (which Joan Temple, as always, won), and after supper they parted with fond farewells. And so ended the Flat, a vital part of fandom during the eighteen months of its existence.
Fanzine-publishing was maintained, if not without difficulty, during the early months of the war. Though dated August the first (and last) issue of MACABRE from James P.Rathbone of Edinburgh actually appeared in December. It was the first fanzine to emerge from Scotland. Rathbone suspected there wouldn't be a second issue, and in the final paragraph of MACABRE said:
"The editor is being called up, and having made his protests to the tribunal in the near future may find no time for MACABRE in prison. So let's make this issue coming the best ever...even if the tribunal releases him of military service."
Actually, the tribunal sentenced him to non-combative military service.
Unable to maintain THE FANTAST's schedule after October 1939, Sam Youd started up FANTASY WAR BULLETIN that same month, a much smaller and less-ambitious zine, in order to maintain some sort of publishing between the increasingly rare issues of the former fanzine. THE SATELLITE's last issue as official organ of the SFA was in November 1939, though it struggled along as an independent fanzine until August 1940 when rising costs and the reduction in fan activity nationally brought about its demise. Burke and McIlwain weren't the only Liverpool fans producing fanzines at this point. Ron Holmes and L.V.Heald published thirteen issues of SCIENCE FANTASY REVIEW between May 1939 and January 1940, changing its name to WAR DIGEST, in February 1940. While never more than a two-sheeter it filled a gap until its demise in September. In early 1940, Arthur C.Clarke had an article published in THE FUTURIAN, titled 'How to Build a Spaceship' and based on work carried out by the BIS, that accurately described how a craft to carry men to the moon would be built, even down to predicting that it would be a stage-rocket, that the capsule (called a 'life-container' in the article) would parachute back to Earth, and that this craft would be built in around thirty years time. He was on the nail with those predictions and also, unfortunately, with the prediction that ended the piece:
"...we have reasons for believing that by the time peace returns we shall have learned a devil of a lot about rockets."
Early in 1940 Ted Carnell almost became the editor of a new SF prozine. Bill Passingham, a professional journalist and SFA member Carnell had first met at the 1938 convention, approached him in October 1939 with the news that he had interested a publisher in the possibilities of such a magazine. A number of meetings were held with the publishing company, the second on 5th January 1940 with Gillings in attendance, and it was agreed that Carnell and Passingham would put up £50 each. It was also decided that the magazine should be called NEW WORLDS, after the fanzine Carnell had put out the previous year. On February 13th the directors of the company gave a luncheon at the 'Savage Club' to celebrate completion of the initial work and to finalise details of the launch. There were other details as well, as Carnell later related:
"Plans were also discussed for a possible collaboration with the SFA, the suggestions including two separate kinds of membership, one including a year's subscription to NEW WORLDS and SFA membership, the other as associate member at five shillings entitling members to all the privileges planned around the magazine -- co-operation with cinema clubs and special tickets for members when SF films were being shown; a yearly free gift to all members of the 'best' SF book of the year; the formation of a SF circulating library; a monthly printed fan magazine covering news about the genre in general. All very grandiose considering that we now had a war in Europe!"
Two weeks later the bubble burst. The publishing company's directorate split, funds mysteriously vanished, wages were not paid, and by the end of March the company had gone into liquidation, leaving Carnell sadder, wiser, and £50 poorer.
Around this time in 1940, Doug Mayer found himself unexpectedly drafted into the war effort. As Airey and Warnes later recalled Mayer was, at this point, reading Physics at Leeds University, but...
"...he also wrote a science column for the local paper, The Yorkshire Evening Post. From papers and information gathered at the university he deduced that the atomic bomb was now more than just a possibility. He mentioned this in his column and as a result the editor had no choice but to refer the matter to 'higher authority', who promptly whisked him away to London, where he became one of the famous 'backroom boys'. From then on we had no contact with Douglas nor any news of him until after the war..."
The experience of another fan involved in journalism was very different. In mid-1940, Walter Gillings learned that being a pacifist during wartime is not without cost when he was sacked from The Ilford Recorder:
"The local Press is not quite the same thing as the national; though even the locals are now imbued with the war spirit. It was the fact that we had tried to keep our heads on the 'Recorder', where I did nothing but reflect various local aspects of the war, without prejudice, which led to the paper's policy being criticised by local authority, and started the ball rolling for my dismissal. Had I not been sacked (as a gesture to local big-wig critics) and been expected to change my attitude to suit a more warlike policy, I would most certainly have resigned. As it was, they didn't give me a chance."
Gillings was re-instated after the war, but in the meantime he had a lot to worry about. In November he appeared before the Fulham CO Tribunal, who turned down his request for Conscientious Objector status and left his future looking very uncertain.
The war in Europe was not going well for the Allied forces at this point. France fell to the Nazis in May 1940 and the beleaguered BEF had to be evacuated from the Continent at Dunkirk. With France in German hands Hitler expected Britain to seek an armistice, but instead Winston Churchill expressed the nation's determination to fight on. Hitler thus decided to proceed with Operation Sealion, the seaborne invasion of Britain, a vital first step of which was the destruction of the RAF. The subsequent battle for mastery of our skies came to be known as the Battle of Britain, of course. Though German bombers mounted night raids from the first week in June, the Battle of Britain didn't officially begin until 10th July when the Luftwaffe launched daylight raids against south-coast ports and merchant shipping. Having lost almost a thousand planes during the ill-fated European expedition the RAF could only field 591 aircraft against the Luftwaffe's 2800 at this point, a 5-to-1 German superiority that didn't auger well for Britain. Fortunately, the RAF fought with enough skill and courage, and the strategy of Dowding and Park was sufficiently superior to that of Goering, that Fighter Command was able to replace aircraft at a rate not much less than that at which they were being lost. What it couldn't replace was pilots. Between 8th and 18th August 154 pilots were lost and only 63 replacements came from the training schools. If the battle became one of attrition then, no matter how many aircraft the RAF possessed, it would inevitably be swept from the skies over Britain.
Among those who gave their lives during this period were Manchester fan Stanley Davies, who was discharged from the army after Dunkirk with a broken back and with memory loss resulting from shellshock. He died a few months later. Then there was Sgt. Ted Wade, who had left the Leeds group in 1936 to join the RAF but still managed to maintain contact with fandom (he was SFA member no.12). An armourer at RAF Scampton, Wade was killed on 29th August 1940 when a bomb dump exploded near him.
When looking through American fanzines from the early years of WWII it's surprising how little mention they make of the war, or of the plight of British fans caught up in it all. Sid Birchby offers this explanation:
"So far as US fandom ignored WWII and the plight of British fandom before Pearl Harbour, I'd say that it was no more than typical of the USA as a whole. (There were notable exceptions among the fans.) Up to December 1941, there was not just a strong isolationist lobby in the States but a very active pro-German one. A third body of opinion held that Europe was knocking itself to bits and that the USA would eventually be able to move in. There are traces of this attitude in FINAL BLACKOUT by the late L.Ron Hubbard, which wasn't well received by fans over here."
Maybe so, but Youd gave it a glowing review in the August 1940 FANTASY WAR BULLETIN.
As we all know, the RAF more than held its own during the Battle of Britain, and so Hitler was forced to move Operation Sealion back from 15th September 1940 to the 21st, but even that date relied on the RAF being put out of business quickly. To achieve that final breakthrough the Luftwaffe turned its attention to London, hoping both to paralyse the government and to draw out the RAF. On the afternoon of 7th September 1940 900 German aircraft headed for the capital and succeeded in catching Fighter Command off-guard. They faced little opposition as they dropped their deadly cargo of high-explosive and incendiaries over the city, and in the evening a further 250 bombers launched another attack on London. The Blitz had begun. During the day Britain's anti-invasion forces had been ordered to Alert 1:'Invasion imminent, and probable within twelve hours'. The Luftwaffe was still unable to break the RAF, however, and on 17th September Hitler cancelled Operation Sealion indefinitely, though the raids on London and other important cities continued. In the two months between 7th September and 13th November there was only one night on which London escaped bombing, and each raid consisted of up to 300 aircraft. The Blitz continued until May 1941 and nearly 90 000 civilians were killed or injured. Naturally, all this couldn't fail to have an effect on the fans on the ground.
When the Blitz began, the authorities cracked down on travelling for pleasure, Bill Temple and Ted Carnell were called up (Carnell joining the Royal Artillery on 30th September), and London fandom died. In October 1940, in what was the final fannish gathering at the Red Bull, George Medhurst, after a battle to convince staff that his journey on the Central Line tube was not frivolous, made his way to the pub to find that Sid Birchby, already in uniform, was the only other person to turn up. From contemporary references it appears that SFA meetings may have gone fortnightly by this point, and shifted from Thursdays to Fridays. At this remove it's difficult to tell for certain since so little on the SFA survives. Birchby had been considering writing a detailed history of the SFA, but his notes were lost during the Blitz in the explosion that destroyed his house and killed his mother. Others affected by enemy action included Bill Temple and Ken Bulmer. Temple's home in Wembley was damaged, he himself being stationed at Whalley in Lancashire, while Bulmer was bombed out. Meanwhile, an air-raid on Manchester destroyed the warehouse where the Atlas Company housed their British Reprint Edition ASTOUNDINGs. For a while it seemed as if the Luftwaffe was intent on destroying what remained of British fandom, but it was not dead yet.
Despite spending all day toiling in the fields for next to nothing, MikeRosenblum was still to be largely responsible for keeping British fandom alive during the war years. Having had difficulty maintaining the quality of THE FUTURIAN, Rosenblum had folded it with its eighth issue, in the spring. In June he launched PSEUDO-FUTURIAN, a single-sheeter that saw four issues, but it was the fanzine's next incarnation that would prove to be the most important.
FUTURIAN WAR DIGEST (FWD for short, or 'Fido' as it was nicknamed) which, according to its masthead, incorporated PSEUDO-FUTURIAN and WAR DIGEST, made its debut in October 1940. The first issue carried this statement of policy:
"We have a twofold duty; (a) to give news of and to fandom, (b) to keep burning those bright mental constellations possessed by all fans. Both of these will be done to the best of our ability."
FWD lasted for thirty-nine issues, its demise coming in March 1945. This would be an impressive publishing record for a fanzine in any era but in the conditions existing during the war it was nothing short of phenomenal and its example inspired other British fans to continue with some semblance of fanzine production. Looking back on that period from our vantage point in the present its almost impossible to appreciate the magnitude of Rosenblum's achievement under conditions of immense personal and national hardship. With the huge wartime paper drives sucking up vast quantities of material and enemy raids destroying as much (for instance, six million books were lost during the fire-blitz on London of 29th December 1940) supplies were almost impossible to come by, yet somehow he managed. In this he was aided by the American fans, organised by Ackerman, who shipped over unwanted paper which often had stuff already printed on one side, such as the covers of US fanzines like VoM, and were obviously from print over-runs. Many fans issued small magazines that went out either bound with FWD or as riders to it (these were nicknamed, inevitably, 'Fido's Litter'). Estimates of the number of fanzines issued with FWD vary but it has been estimated that twenty-one fans distributed over a hundred and seventeen issues of their fanzines this way, some of them admittedly no more than single sheets.
FWD was obviously vital to Rosenblum as an intellectual escape from manual labour but, judging from an interlineation dated December 1940, was also a useful distraction during air-raids:
FUTURIAN WAR DIGEST, in its vital role as British fandom's main unifying force, was the main chronicler of the trials and tribulations facing fandom in these uncertain times. In March 1941, FWD reported that sapper D.R.Smith, having survived his assignment in France with the British Expeditionary Force was now stationed at Clyst-Hydon in Devon. It also reported the engagement of Glasgow's Marion Eadie and Manchester's Harry Turner. Eadie was almost certainly Britain's first active female fan and apart from having poetry and fan-fiction in a number of fanzines including, from it's first issue in April, Turner's ZENITH, also sold professionally to TALES OF WONDER. In April, under the banner headline "British Fandom Waking Up!", FWD reported that:
"During the last month the almost-unprecedented number of three British fan magazines appeared, and yet a fourth is 'on the stocks'."
These were FANTAST (Youd & Burke), GARGOYLE (McIlwain), and FANMAIL (Clarke). The one 'on the stocks' was presumably ZENITH.
In February 1941 Birchby had floated the idea of forming a new London branch of the SFA and to this end acquired a list of fans still located in London from Medhurst, who by this time was a student at Cambridge. Unfortunately the longtime meeting places of the London SFA, Druid's Hall, the Flat, and the Red Bull, were destroyed by enemy action shortly afterwards. On 16th April 1941 a bombing raid took out the Flat and the Red Bull, and had the Flat's famous residents not had to vacate it before their three-year lease on it was due to expire in June 1941 they too would have been lost in the raid. On the night of 10th May incendiaries destroyed numbers 2-28 Lamb's Conduit Street, most of the eastern side. Druid's Hall, at 14-18, was right in the middle of the inferno. A flat was later rebuilt where the Flat had been, but the pub was replaced by an office building, Highlight House. Druid's Hall was never rebuilt. (On the site is now located the 'Aliens Registration Bureau', oddly enough.) London fandom's pre-war meeting places were gone forever.
With their old haunts demolished those former London SFA members who wanted to start up a new series of meetings were forced to seek a different venue. Thus, during May, three meetings (there appear to have been no more) were held at the headquarters of Rudolf Steiner's Anthroposophical Society which, as Birchby recalls:
"...was and still is near the Regent's Park end of Baker Street. It ran a very good cafe and lounge mainly for the troops, of which I was one. The food was really good and plentiful, grown on what we would now call whole-food principles. Frank Arnold's flat was close to Baker Street and my army base when in London was at Marylebone Road, so I arranged for ad-hoc fan-meetings at Steiner Hall. When I left London, they ceased."
Though they probably can't really be considered true SFA meetings the Steiner Hall gatherings nonetheless attracted almost a dozen people. At the third Ken Chapman turned up to say goodbye prior to joining the Navy. Also called up in May was Arthur C.Clarke who was posted to RAF Bridgenorth in Salop where he served as a radar instructor, eventually rising to the rank of flight lieutenant.
In June 1941, Dave McIlwain received orders to report for service in the RAF on the 28th of that month. This put an end to GARGOYLE, though it's future had already been looking uncertain anyway, a bomb having destroyed printer Reggie Potter's duplicator the previous month. Also in June, FWD reported that:
"Ron Lane and Harry Turner, both of Manchester, met for the first time recently and there is the possibility of a stf club (very informal) for Manchester, being formed."
Whether this club ever in fact came into being is not known. Indeed, the only formally organised group known to be still in existence at this point in 1941 was the Stoke-on-Trent Science Fiction Club. Formed in July/August 1939, the club was run by Ken Johnson and had at least one member, Julian F.Parr, who was active in fanzines. While not an ambitious organisation the club successfully carried out its activities and published a quarterly report detailing them. One of its members, Stanley Roberts, spent most of the war as a PoW in Stalag VIIIA. The club probably didn't survive the war and was certainly defunct by 1947 at which point Johnson was trying, apparently in vain, to start it up again.
Most of the fanzines seeing print around this time appeared in 'Fido's Litter'. Among them (from its first issue in August 1942) was Terry Overton's GALAXY, the first fanzine to emerge from Wales. Other fanzines still continued to appear despite the paper shortages, however, including THE FANTAST, which from April 1941 was edited by Doug Webster of Aberdeen. Sid Birchby doesn't believe that paper shortages at the time were as bad as everyone makes out:
"...of course it existed, but it strikes me as odd that fan editors seem to have found more and more paper as the war went on. I reckon that a lot fell off the backs of trucks.
Things were never downright impossible. I recall that Tiffany Thayer of the New York Fortean Society managed to slip a whole load of the 'Collected Works of Fort' (a very fat volume) to Eric Frank Russell in Liverpool. This was in 1941, when the Battle of the Atlantic was at its height and merchant ships were going down like nine-pins."
One of the stranger consequences of fans trying to keep in touch under wartime conditions was the rise of a system of chain-letters. These were sent from a central source with a list of names attached, each person to whom the package was sent passing it on to the next on the list, and helped communication to be maintained with the minimum of time and expense. The first of these started as a continuation of the newsletter of The Probe, a psychic research organisation, but since this group shared a number of members in common with the SFA (including its secretary, Hal Chibbett) it naturally came to the attention of fandom and inspired imitations. The first of these was Clarke's FAN-MAIL, produced by him during his Welsh exile in an attempt to keep in touch with members of London SFA. It grew to include others until it had a circulation of some twenty-four fans and was continued by Sam Youd after Clarke's entry into the RAF. In June 1941 Eric Frank Russell decided to supplement FAN-MAIL by starting up a third chain-letter, an 'American Melange' containing news from the US and one or two recent fanzines.
British fans held firm in their pacifism to a remarkable degree, but as the war ground on there were some who had a change of heart. Writing in the August 1941 issue of Youd's FAN DANCE (one of 'Fido's Litter'), Eric Williams announced that:
"For this war, at least, I have given up my pacifistic ideas; they won't work. If we give in, in would come Nazism, out would go freedom, down would come darkness."
After being called up early in 1940 Harold Gottliffe, Director of Leeds SFL, had the hospital ship he was serving on bombed out from under him while off Norway later that year, and another he was on sunk off Crete in August 1941. That same month, back in Leeds itself, Mike Rosenblum was having serious doubts about his ability to continue FWD. Not only was he toiling in the fields every day but he was putting in two nights a week fire-watching (ie. for incendiary bombs) and a third learning first-aid. He was constantly tired, had increasing difficulty acquiring the materials necessary for publication, and had also attracted unwelcome government attention. The authorities, having decided that he was publishing seditious material, put him under police observation and Rosenblum feared that FWD, by now the only remaining cohesive force in British fandom, might be forced to close down. He concluded that a new national fan organisation was needed and began to make plans for one.
The August 1941 FWD carried a letter from Texas fan John M.Cunningham in which he announced that:
"...I have formed the BSFWRS -- British Science Fiction War Relief Society -- and as director of said organisation ask your support and help in same. The purpose of the NON-PROFIT organisation is to supply FREE OF CHARGE to British S-F fans, United States Pro S-F magazines..."
Cunningham asked British fans to arrange the distribution of these promags and proposed involving as many US fans as possible at his end of things. Within a couple of months the BSFWRS was up and running, the generosity of those American fans who donated magazines providing a literary lifeline that British fans of the period will always remember and feel grateful for.
The September 1941 FWD reported that Manchester fan Eric Needham had been called-up by the RAF and was being trained as a Flight Mechanic. It also reported an unusual communication from US fandom. This was a record made by L.A. fans Forrest Ackerman and Walt Daugherty containing greetings and news of recent LASFS activities and was circulated around those British fans who had access to a gramophone.
On Saturday 21st September 1941 an informal meeting was held in London of all those fans who could make it. At noon Maurice Hanson showed up, the first time he had been seen since being home on leave from France shortly before Dunkirk, as did Frank Arnold, Canadian fan Bob Gibson, Arthur Williams, Ted Carnell, and others. After raiding the bookshops of Charing Cross Road the group went to see Walt Disney's FANTASIA. The following day this same group plus Hal and Lilly Chibbett, John Craig, John Wyndham, and Ken Bulmer (who had got into fandom after being sent a sample copy of FWD), met at Liverpool Street station and went on to a restaurant. Later they stumbled across an unoccupied bandstand, with seats, in a quiet backwater off Holborn and held Britain's first ever open-air SF meeting. The discussion centred around the BIS and its technical programmes, the revival of the SFA (they were a yet unaware of Rosenblum's plans for a new national organisation), and what they all intended to do after the war. For a few hours at least it was as if they were back in the old days, the gathering being as substantial as most early conventions.
Being somewhat envious of September's fannish reunion in London, Northern fans used Doug Webster's visit during the week of 18th October as an excuse for a hastily-organised gathering in Manchester on the Thursday of that week. Those who turned up at Harry Turner's home included Julian Parr, Marion Eadie, John F.Burke, Ron Lane, Mike Rosenblum, and Webster himself. They spent the day much as their counterparts in London had the previous month, and also admired many of Turner's original pieces of artwork for TALES OF WONDER. That same month, purely by coincidence, Birchby and Temple met in Wales where they were stationed. This was one of the first such meetings but hardly the last, the constant moving of fans in service around the country leading to more personal contact than had been usual before the war. October was also the month Sam Youd was due to report for service in the Royal Corps of Signals (having previously kept busy in his local Home Guard unit), but instead he found himself in hospital with seborrhea and didn't actually report until February.
In November 1941, Ken Bulmer reported for service in the Royal Corps of Signals, Don Doughty of Norfolk ended up in the Navy, and Sid Birchby had a close call when the lorry he was on crashed and shed its load onto the road "...with nice resounding thuds...". The load was five ton of bombs. November '41also saw the appearance of issue ten of THE FANTAST, the second to be edited by Doug Webster. Inside, former editor Sam Youd explained that:
"When I handed FANTAST over to Douglas I did not greatly care what became of it. I was so pleased to get it off my hands that he could have made as poor a job of editing as an Australian fan, and I should not have objected."
British fandom's low opinion of Australian fanzines is not a recent phenomenon, it seems. Of more interest though, is an observation of Webster's in that same issue concerning a hot issue of the day:
"In a (fairly) recent issue of SPACEWAYS Harry Warner officially adopted 'fanzine' as a nickname or abbreviation for 'fan magazine'. Now we are perverse. We dislike 'fanzine'..."
Though Louis Chauvenet is usually credited with coining 'fanzine' it was his fellow-American Harry Warner Jr who championed it and who may have done much to help its general acceptance when, in mid-1942, he launched his 'Fanzine Service for Fans In Service'. The then-current term for fanzines, 'fanmags', was also a contraction of 'fan magazine' but soon it would be eclipsed, as eventually would the abbreviation of 'fan magazine' (fmz) by that for 'fanzine' (fnz).
The December FWD had the headline "AMERICA AT WAR" emblazoned across its front page, and editor Rosenblum commiserated with our US cousins:
"On behalf of British fantasy fandom we offer our sincere sympathies to our American brothers-in-spirit who are now faced with some of the trials and tribulations we over here have already experienced, and also doubtless, some of their very own. We hope that the essential spirit of fantasy fandom will remain, in spite of the difficulties now arising; and that the mental adventurer will still be able to plumb his uncharted course through the enchanted cosmos, regardless of mere mundane affairs.
But how will you in America be affected? The first result may be something of a blessing in disguise, namely the drastic reduction of the number of fantasy magazines. We venture to suggest the almost-immediate halving of the field with then a gradual pruning down to about a quarter of the present spared -- about five magazines in all. Certain authors with service connections and younger writers of call-up age are sure to withdraw entirely from stf ken, but the mean standard of writing will undoubtedly improve as the competition gets keener for the smaller number of pages to be filled."
In January 1942, Harold Gottliffe, having survived having two ships shot out from under him, was attached to the staff of a PoW camp in Palestine. Another ex-Leeds group fan, Matthias Rivlin, was stationed nearby, serving as a teletypist with the Royal Corps of Signals at Alexandria in Egypt. That same month Julian Parr reported for service in the RAF, while in London Arthur Williams apprehended an RAF deserter who broke into his house. Within a few months Williams himself would be in the RAF. February saw Andrew Salmond of Glasgow called up by the RAF and also, despite his pacifist principles, John F.Burke, who soon found himself stationed on an air base in the Orkneys. In March, Eric Moss (ex-Leeds group) was sent overseas with the Royal Corps of Signals, and Eric Frank Russell announced that he would soon be joining his RAF colleagues McIlwain and Forster at Cranwell. Also in March, Osmand Robb of Edinburgh and Arthur Busby of Birmingham were given service in the National Fire Service by their respective CO Tribunals.
Walter Gillings' prozine, TALES OF WONDER, had been badly hit by the paper restrictions, its quarterly schedule more and more disrupted as time went on. The final issue, dated Spring 1942, was the first to appear since the previous August. Meanwhile Gillings himself had had other troubles to contend with. After having his request for Conscientious Objector status turned down by two tribunals he was forced to enter the service in order to prevent his wife and child from starving. Gillings was temperamentally and psychologically unsuited to Army life, however, and by late-1943 he was out having served only two years in uniform. Another fan, Jack Burns, spent six months in prison during 1942 for refusing to submit to a medical examination for service in the armed forces.
The March 1942 FWD reported that Julian Parr and Edwin Macdonald were being called-up by the RAF. Since they were, respectively, the English and Scottish representatives of the BSFWRS this temporarily fouled-up the distribution of the books and magazines Cunningham and co were sending over. In a letter in the same FWD, Forrest Ackerman expressed his surprise and delight at the idea -- floated in FWD two months earlier -- of a fund to bring him to the UK after the war, and respectfully declining the offer.
When Eric Frank Russell joined Dave McIlwain and Roland Forster at No.1 Signals School, Cranwell, in April 1942 it was perhaps inevitable they would attempt to form a fan group at the camp. To this end an artfully-designed poster was placed in the NAAFI (the camp canteen) and results were apparently so gratifying that Russell suggested they hold something he termed 'the CRANVENTION'. This was duly held and:
"...subjects were discussed ranging from the relative merits of British and American writers to the question of whether after The Revolution high walls should be allowed to remain around what is now private property, followed by a more informal meeting in a Technical Laboratory when the Army's representative, Cpl Birchby, arrived two days after the CRANVENTION proper. Since that time events have moved with incredible rapidity. Meetings, usually in the form of SF suppers are being held twice a week, and an SF and fanzine lending system has been established. The first issue of Cranwell's own fanzine, THE CRANFAN, published in London for the Cranwell group, arrived last week and was enthusiastically received. Produced in two colours, the mag contained fan news, book and music reviews, and a political commentary. Knowing what Forrest J Ackerman has done for fans in this country during the war and of his collection of stf rarities, it was unanimously decided to forward as many copies as possible accompanied by a letter in Esperanto, to 4e as a small measure of gratitude for his services to British fandom. Thus it is probable that Sid Birchby is now the only British fan in possession of a copy."
This group coined the maxim "Join the Army for mud and blud. For Fantasy join the RAF". They also decided that Arthur C.Clarke, then posted at No.2 Signals School in Wiltshire should have the benefit of their experience in forming a fan group on a military base and to this end 'sent' him Cranwell's Canadian representative, E.A. (Jim) Atwell, formerly of Ottawa. This magnanimity does not appear to have spurred Clarke into forming his own group.
Meanwhile, following up on his desire for a new national fan organisation, Rosenblum had sent out seven chain-letters canvassing opinions and by November 1941, when three had been returned to him, a favourite idea that seemed to be emerging was for any new organisation to be connected with America's NFFF (National Fantasy Fan Federation). This doesn't actually seem to have happened, but the idea does appear to have influenced the name of the organisation, at least initially. Rosenblum's original suggestion had been to call it 'The Futurian Society of Great Britain', but the first two bulletins sent out with FWD, in March and April 1942, were titled BRITISH FANTASY FAN FEDERATION PRELIMINARY BULLETIN. The third, and final, of these bulletins the following month was titled BRITISH FANTASY SOCIETY PRELIMINARY BULLETIN.
The organisation took a long time to get together and it was not until June 1942 that the British Fantasy Society came into being. (NOTE: This is no relation to the current organisation of the same name, which was started in 1971 and originally called the British Weird Fantasy Society.) Rosenblum was its Director, Carnell its President, and D.R.Smith its secretary. It published an official organ, the BFS BULLETIN, which Smith edited and which usually went out bound with FWD. By the time of its first issue, in July, the group had a score of members, listed Arthur Busby as treasurer, and had a library section headed by Jack Gibson. Simultaneously with the BFS, the Fanarchists announced their existence (in what appears to have been the earliest use of this term in fandom). This group consisted chiefly of Harry Turner, Marion Eadie, and Doug Webster (long the stencil-cutter and production assistant on FWD), and its activities seemed limited mainly of stressing that they were not 'Organisation Men'. Despite this Webster was appointed coordinator of the BFS advisory board.
The October 1942 FWD contained letters from Eric Frank Russell and Olaf Stapledon. It also contained a letter from E.Frank Parker, who had just learned of the rest of British fandom thanks to American fanzines such as VOM obtained through the BSFWRS, and told the story of his local fan group, a group that had hitherto been unaware of the existence of a national fandom and which had formed two years earlier...
The Teddington group known as the Paint Research Station Science Fiction Library had started life in 1940 when fan E.Frank Parker had donated his library of SF books and magazines to help members of the National Fire Service to pass the time when 'standing by', and had grown from there. Initially there had been some hostility, followed by interest, and then enthusiasm. A monthly news-sheet (called MEMO-SHEET) was issued and in 1942 the full-size, single-copy fanzine BEYOND began to appear quarterly. This featured the work of upwards of two dozen different writers during its life and that of almost as many artists. The writing was primarily amateur fiction but this sometimes meant novelettes of 30,000 words or so. BEYOND was at first edited (and typed and bound) by Parker and John Aiken but Parker had to "...retire into pseudonymity..." when certain authorities at the Paint Research Station decided that SF was good for neither science or morals. As a result of such pressure the club was at times almost an underground movement and, as a natural consequence, thrived. It even succeeded in expanding beyond the confines of the station and pulling in people such as Bruce Gaffron, Don Smith, and Peter Hawkins, and made contact with a number of American groups.
Perhaps inspired by the BSFWRS, or perhaps independently, Alden H.Norton -- the editor of ASTONISHING STORIES and SUPER SCIENCE STORIES -- made a generous offer to a number of prominent fans, including Mike Rosenblum who published Norton's letter in the November 1942 FWD:
"During the present emergency a good many science fiction fans in Britain and the Dominions have been deprived of access to American magazines. I have tried to assemble a list of representative fans from across the sea, including yourself, and have just sent a memo to our circulation department, instructing them to put you on our free mailing list....this action on my part is prompted by noother wish than to give at least a few British fans an opportunity to get some American science magazines during these unfortunate times."
The same FWD reported on the increasing numbers of American fans and pros being drafted and mentioned that Bill Temple had been posted to the Middle East. In fact quite a few fans were being moved around at this point. According to the February 1943 FWD, Dave McIlwain was now in North Africa, RAFer Alan Miles was in Canada, and Les Johnson was overseas in some classified location. The Stoke-on-Trent group was finding its ranks severely depleted by this point as Ken Johnson, newly called-up by the Army and posted in Chester, related:
"Poor SoT club; it has two members not in the forces now, because as from Thursday I shall be wearing khaki myself, and our youngest and incidentally only female member joins the Land Army."
On Tuesday 16th March 1943, for the first time in its three year history, the Teddington group called a meeting at secretary Parker's house and decided to break off its association with the Paint Research Station, throwing membership open to any local fan who cared to join. Changing its name to the Cosmos Club (or CSC, as they abbreviated it) the group decided to continue publication of its amateur fantasy magazine, BEYOND, re-name the club newsletter, maintain the club library, and hold regular meetings. The second meeting, on 13th April, was held in Shirley's Cafe on Park Road, Teddington and some thirteen members turned up, a respectable number. At this meeting it was decided the newsletter should be titled COSMIC CUTS, and Gordon Holbrow was assigned to edit it. Leading lights of the Cosmos Club would include Frank Parker, Syd Bounds, Peter Hawkins, John Aiken, and John Newman.
Within a year of its formation, Carnell had to resign as president of the BFS due to a long overseas assignment and illness forced Gibson to resign as librarian (he was replaced by J.P.Doyle and Fred Goodier). On Whitsunday 1943, the BFS organised the Pendle Expedition, which involved some half-dozen fans descending on a bungalow at Highford, Lancs., owned by Rosenblum's mother. The group climbed Pendle Hill, compared it unfavourably with the Martian landscape, and decided there should be a British APA. To this end the July FWD announced that Ron Lane, Roy Johnson, and Don Houston (all of whom had been at Pendle) were sponsoring BFAPA (the British Fantasy Amateur Press Association) and urging anyone interested in the idea to get in touch with them. Since there is no record of BFAPA ever having come into existence the response can't have been all this group had hoped it would. Between 23rd and 26th April the BFS sponsored a convention, MIDVENTION. Originally scheduled for Birmingham, MIDVENTION eventually took place in Leicester and was attended by fourteen fans. The committee was directed by Roy Johnson with the help of Rosenblum, Don Houston, Arthur Williams, Ralph E.Orme, and A.W.Gardner, with assistance from a Birmingham based sub-committee of Tom Hughes and Arthur Busby -- quite a team for such a small convention. There was an auction conducted by Ron Holmes, a debate between Terry Overton and Bert Lewis on the difference between fantasy and SF, and, on the programme at least, a fencing contest. As Ron Holmes recalls:
"In fact the event did not happen even though it was on the programme. Roy Johnson and I had never met, but we were both swordsmen of a sort so it seemed to be a good idea to have a bout. We were to eneact a scene from 'Warlord of Mars', he to be John Carter and I Tars Tarkas. The casting being that way because I was taller. In the event, when we came to practice, he produced real sabres for us to use. He was very much smaller than I (I'm over six foot) and wore glasses. I did not think he looked the part very much, but when we practiced I could see that I had the superior weight and strength of arm and eventually I decided not to go on practicing because I thought it was dangerous. He was rather disap[pointed."
The BFS was sufficiently successful by this point that there was talk of it sparking a revival of the SFA, but the advisory board squashed this idea claiming that the BFS would continue after the war in its place. Secretary D.R. Smith put the board's case in the tenth BFS BULLETIN:
"The actual reason why the SFA could not function in wartime was that its constitution did not allow for a dispersed Executive communicating by correspondence, and foresaw the dispersal of the members of its governing Council. The BFS arose by accepting the correspondence method of government -- a method having many and obvious defects -- and also because an unexpectedly large number of fans have settled down to more or less permanent positions for one cause or another. The point we have to face is -- would it be possible, even if desired, to ressurect the SFA after more than four years of coma? In all fairness I think it must be admmitted that it would not be practicable without an amount of work equal to creating an entirely fresh society."
By mid-1943 the group's library owned several hundred prozines and had established a branch to handle the sale of magazines. By the autumn the BFS had acquired 87 members, formed a sub-group devoted to weird fiction (headed by Terry Overton of Cardiff), and was thriving. However, an attempt to hold an advisory board election late in 1943 almost brought it to grief. The only candidate to get a unanimous vote, J.E.Rennison, resigned. Somehow, though, a board was eventually elected composed of W.R.Gibson, Don Houston, Terry Overton, R.Silburn, Dennis Tucker, and Edwin MacDonald.
In August 1943, FWD carried a piece titled 'Down With Humour', the only one ever contributed to a British fanzine by the notorious Francis Towner Laney. That same month his LASFL colleague, Gus Willmorth, arrived in Britain and travelled to Teddington to visit the Cosmos Club. According to John Aiken:
"To commemorate the visit of Gus Willmorth a film was made -- from the technical point of view easily the worst film ever produced in the whole history of the cinema, but an unfailing source of joy to members; frequently it would be called for twice or three times in an evening and, much-mended and long-suffering as it was, would run through its gamut of tricks: breaking, jamming, running partly upside down or backwards, or flooding the floor knee-deep with celluloid."
Willmorth's meeting with the CSC was the first between British and American fans the war had brought about, but not the last. Shortly after this, John Milliard of Battle Creek, Michigan, arrived and met up with Rosenblum in Leeds. Also at that meeting was Gillings, who was stationed in that area during his final days in uniform.
Harry Kay, a London fan who had dropped out shortly after the war started, reappeared in fandom by way of FWD. Having been the keeper of the SFA library when the SFA was suspended he still had it in his possession and in the October FWD suggested that it be combined with the libraries of the Cosmos Club and BFS. With the immense difficulty there was getting hold of SF during the war years such libraries were an important resource, and the repository of books and magazines acquired through the BSFWRS. At the time of Kay's proposal the BFS library was stored in close proximity to that of the Cosmos Club, CSC members being in charge of both, so such a scheme would have been practical, but for some reason it was never put into action (though the SFA library would appear to have been combined with that of the BFS). The CSC and BFS libraries would be put to good use both during and after the war, however.
Over the New Year holiday, 31st December 1943 -- 1st January 1944, a small convention, NORCON, was held in Manchester. It appears to have been split between the hotel where out-of-towners Mike Rosenblum and Gus Willmorth were staying, and Ron Lane's home on Beresford Rd. Eight fans appear to have attended, the others being Peter Kott, Roy R.Johnson, Ron Holmes, George Ellis, and Ron Bradbury. Apart from partying the group held an auction, and visited both the zoo and Harry Turner's home (he wasn't in). After the convention the group put out a souvenir booklet, part of which was stencilled at the con itself. Another NORCON was held over the same holiday the following year, this time in Leeds. Business sessions were held at the Dick Sheppard Centre and receptions at the 4 Grange Terrace home of Rosenblum, but no details are known.
The February 1944 FWD reported John Craig called-up by the Army, Derek Gardiner posted to India, former PoW Stanley Roberts recently returned to Stoke-on-Trent, and Bob Gibson returning home to Canada after three years in the UK. Due to John Cunningham having been drafted into the US Army Air Force a few months earlier, the BSFWRS had been suspended, and in the April FWD it was announced that it had now been officially wound up.
In 1944 the Cosmos Club organised a convention. Called EASTERCON, the convention was held over the weekend of 8th/9th April, and the slogan on the programme booklet announced 'Greetings from the April 1944 Slancon', perhaps indicating that the Cosmos Club intended the EASTERCON to be the first in a series of Slancons. About twenty fans appear to have attended including Syd Bounds, Hal Chibbett, Ron Lane & George Ellis from Manchester, Dennis Tucker, Arthur Hillman (from Newport, Gwent), and Arthur Williams. The Saturday session seems to have consisted of a raid on the bookshops of Charing Cross Road, the Disney programme at a local cinema, a visit to a pub, and finally a gathering at The Shanghai Restaurant where convention President Walter Gillings and his wife turned up. The next day's session took place at Shirley's Cafe, apparently hired for the day, and included a showing of 'The Cosmos Club Film', a 'Brains Trust' quiz with Gillings, Aiken, and Hawkins, an auction, and Gillings' 'Presidential Address'. In his address Gillings, as always, stressed the need for a continuing British prozine and also the need for an organised fandom. In the latter regard he commented on how curious it was that some local groups seemed to go out of their way to avoid contact with national fandom and cited Hayes BSFA as an example. After the convention a souvenir booklet was prepared by club member Bruce Gaffron but this was 'badly delayed by the interference of doodle-bugs' (V1 rockets), according to FWD, and didn't appear until the end of the year.
A second and smaller Midvention, this time called MIDVENTIONETTE, was held in 1944. It was again held in Leicester during September, and a report on the proceedings (which this writer has been unable to locate a copy of) was sent out with FWD later.
As all the preceeding doubtless makes clear the record of British fandom's doings during the war years is fairly patchy, but what is clear is that fandom continued as best it could under the most adverse conditions. On the home front this might mean the efforts of people such as Mike Rosenblum, or the open-house Frank Arnold kept at his flat off Baker Street throughout the war years for fans on leave or visiting London (which became, in its way, a minor echo of the Flat), but for those in the forces it often meant just hanging on to the idea of fandom itself. On Halloween 1944, while serving on the Italian Front, Bill Temple wrote a letter to VOM (edited by Forrest J Ackerman) that summed up why science fiction and fandom were still important to him, even in such times as these. This, in part, is what he said:
"A break with fandom is...a break with a whole world, a whole structure of romantic associations, inhabited by known friends of affinitive outlook. And they are a rare group, these friends; I have travelled over 12,000 miles recently and met hundreds of new people, but I've met no-one who had that outlook or who would not be lost and bewildered if put amid the group...When we come up against the 'hard realities' of life, our stf nonsense is supposed to be knocked out of us...Actually, there's nothing in that hard, real, outer world that is not enhanced and roselit and made wondrous by the cosmic view....
In the Army, I have grown intimate with all types of people, from miners, labourers, slaughterhouse men to professional soldiers, musicians, college men and boxers. I have watched these men in peril of death, and I have seen them die, not always pleasantly or easily. I have been near enough to death myself more times than I can remember. I have known life at its greatest discomfort in waterlogged foxholes, for many months at Anzio, soaked in the unceasing rain with no hope of drying, hungry, freezing and constantly shelled, machine-gunned, bombed and mortared. In these conditions I have striven to write books and lost them. And rewritten them painfully and lost them again. I have known utter loneliness, and also, the heart-warming comfort of a gathering of my friends. I know what love, marriage, and parenthood are like, and what it is like to be separated from these things year after year, and what it is like to lose a son. I've crossed all the seas, except the so-called Pacific, lived with Arabs, studied the teeming life in the very sower of civilisation, the Nile Valley, gazed and wondered at the Sphinx and the Pyramids, crossed the Western Desert, fought through Tunisia...wandered the streets of dead Pompeii....
All this sounds a bit melodramatic. I only want to prove that stf is not just a bolthole for people escaping from life. I have lived a fair amount and stf has lost none of its essential meaning through that experience. To me the imagination is somewhere nearer the heart of things than 'reality'. Flecker said: "Without vision, the people perish..." The fan outlook is my idea of vision. I want to keep in contact with fans. Without strings of 4e puns, Bob Tucker's inspired lunacy, the keen analysis of Speer,...the immensely readable efforts...Lord, how ordinary life would become!"
On 13th June 1944, seven days after the D-Day landings in Normandy, the first V-1 (as the Fiesler 103 flying bomb, essentially a cruise-missile, came to be known), struck London. It was the start of a massive assault, a murderous reminder that while Hitler's 'Thousand Year Reich' was crashing down in flames the Nazis weren't finished yet. During the first 14 days of the assault 2000 of these 'malignant robots' were launched against the capital. Houses were being damaged at the rate of 20 000 a day and one-sixth of all war-production was lost. This campaign lasted until 1st September when Allied counterstrikes against launch facilities and the German retreat in the face of the Allied advance through Europe seemed to have put paid to the threat. On 3rd September offensive counter-measures were stopped, and on 7th September the evacuation of London was suspended. That evening, at a press-conference, Duncan Sandys announced, "...the Battle of London is over!" The following evening the firstV-2 arrived.
The massive explosion in Chiswick that destroyed six houses and damaged many more, killing three and seriously injuring a further seventeen, was at first officially blamed on a domestic gas-explosion, but the authorities knew better. It had been caused by the first of over 1000 V-2 rockets that were to fall on Britain in the coming months. Though London fans couldn't have known it, in the V-2 assault they were being attacked with a rocket which was to be the direct ancestor of those that would take man to the moon and whose inventor, Wernher von Braun, would become the father of the US space programme. It's doubtful whether they would have appreciated the irony.
With the war drawing to a close those fans in the armed forces began to be demobilised. Harold Gottliffe returned to Leeds early in December 1944,having spent most of the previous four years in the Middle East, and announcedhis intention of becoming active in fandom once more. Alas, it was not to be. Few of those who had been active before the war would be active again, especially those who had actually been in the armed forces, and British fandom was to settle into a state of apathy that would last for a number of years. As for Gottliffe himself, he announced his engagement three weeks after his return, married the following March (the month the V-weapon assault finally ended), and was last heard of in the late fifties, by which point he had moved to London and was running a chemist's shop in Westminster.
The final V-2 fell on London on 27th March 1945 (it hit a block of flats in Stepney, killing 130 people). Earlier in the month a second V-1 assault was launched during which a further 275 flying-bombs fell on the capital. It was the last attack the dying Nazi juggernaut was able to launch against Britain. The last V-1 hit London on 29th March, then it was finally over. More than 2700 civilians were killed in London by the V-2 and a further 6000 during the V-1 offensives. As a postscript to all this it's interesting to note that during the early development of the V-1, Nazi engineers investigated the possibility of launching it from submarines as a way of attacking US coastal cities. Had they succeeded American fandom would have got a taste of what their British counterparts had had to endure.
The final issue of FUTURIAN WAR DIGEST appeared in March 1945. In it Rosenblum claimed he could "...no longer manage to put out any regular magazine", and urged British fans to build the British Fantasy Society into a fully-fledged national organisation. As he put it:
"Fandom is a minute community or culture of its own, and hence not indispensibly in need of a framework or organisation, which is what the Fanarchists maintain; YET, once you want to get things done, there are only two possibilities: dictatorship or some variety of democratic organisation. So far we have had a nice balance in Anglofandom, because for some reason I have been accepted as a focal point. But this isn't going to apply any longer...my own future is now in a state of flux."
In this he wasn't alone, and his hopes for the BFS were to come to nothing. With the revival of the Leeds group a non-starter and Rosenblum settling into inactivity (though he would help form a new Leeds group in the early fifties), the lights of fandom in that city went out. Looking back on the BFS, D.R.Smith reached this conclusion:
"The organisation was fundamentally unsound. The Executive Council consisting of President Gillings, Director Rosenblum, Secretary Smith (D.R.) and Treasurer Busby lived remote from each other and had to confer through circular letters, than which a more tedious and inefficient method could hardly be conceived. The other two will forgive me if I say that most of the actual work devolved on Michael and myself. I being both idle and unsocial this brought it down to Rosenblum. Michael had enthusiasm, energy and sociability, but he had been producing a fan-magazine for ten years, he maintained a huge correspondence with fans and book-collectors both here and in America, and his health began to deteriorate. Transfer of the library to Ron Holmes and Nigel Lindsay made an asset out of what had been for too long a liability, but the end of the war brought no signs of any fan resurgence in which the management of the BFS could be transferred to more lively, less-wearied hands, and the iniquitous Secretary put more honest enthusiasm into winding it up than he had put into any other activity."
As might be imagined, British fandom in the immediate post-war period was in a sorry state. Paper shortages had killed off all the native professional SF magazines and the majority of the fanzines. Nevertheless, with the relaxation of wartime travel restrictions fans were once again able to visit one another freely and to begin slowly rebuilding their fandom as others were getting to grips with the far greater task of rebuilding our shattered cities.
The first post-war meeting there's any record of took place in London during August 1945, a get-together of near-conference proportions on the part of Gillings, Chibbett, Medhurst, Rosenblum, Youd, Benson Herbert, Joyce Fairbairn, Ron Lane, Roland Forster, Syd Bounds, Maurice Hugi, and Canada's Norm Lamb. According to Sam Youd, then on LIAP leave from the Mediterranean:
"As I recall it coincided with VJ Day, and we were all very excited about the news of the atom bomb. There was a move (Benson Herbert inspired, I believe) to telephone or call on Wells, and we went so far as to stand outside his house in Regent's Park, but wiser counsels prevailed and we refrained from pestering the poor old man."
Despite this gathering, it was to be a pro-inspired move that was to get London fandom going again.
The last week of January 1946 was typically cold and bleak. Ted Carnell had been demobilised from the Army the previous week after five-and-a-half years service and had just visited his pre-war employer in Holborn only to find that the printing department where he'd worked had been fire-bombed out of existence. Walking down Fleet Street, contemplating his next move, he met Frank Arnold who was then working for The News-Chronicle. It was a chance encounter that was to have many repercussions for British fandom. (Arnold's own recollection is that the meeting was arranged and took place at Charing Cross, but in both accounts what happened thereafter is the same.) Arnold had made contact with Stephen D.Frances (aka Hank Janson) of Pendulum Publications and interested him in putting out an SF magazine, and now having met up with Carnell, who Arnold thought the ideal man to edit it, they hurried along to Lincoln's Inn and the offices of Pendulum on the top floor of 10 Old Square. Based on his plans for the aborted 1940 version Carnell was given carte blanche to edit and produce the first two issues of NEW WORLDS, if possible on a quarterly basis. As the first issue began to take shape Ken Chapman came out of the Navy and Carnell arranged to meet him at The Shamrock in Fetter Lane (owing to the beer shortage they were allowed only a half-pint each on that occasion). Discussing the plans for the new magazine Chapman suggested they arrange a monthly meeting of their pre-war colleagues as this would give Carnell an opportunity to talk to them about his editorial requirements. Carnell agreed, and so was arranged what would be the first in a series of post-war London fan meetings that continue to this day.
In March those who turned up at The Shamrock included Maurice Hugi, Hal Chibbett, Bill Temple, Fred Brown, Eric Williams, Alan Deveraux, Frank Arnold, Ken Chapman, and several others. The following month this group moved across the road to The White Horse, whose accomodations were larger and supply of beer more generous. In effect these meetings were friendly out-of-the-office editorial conferences with a largely professional interest that led, in July 1946, to the appearance of the first issue of NEW WORLDS. However, within months of the meetings starting Ted Tubb learned of them and spread the word among the capital's fans. Seeing in the meetings a chance to recapture the pleasant atmosphere of those pre-war days of the Flat and the Red Bull, they began turning up as well, and in rapidly increasing numbers. Soon these Thursday night meetings were being held weekly. By the end of the year those showing up at the meetings also included Arthur C.Clarke, A.Bertram Chandler, and John Wyndham, and the group had started calling itself the London Circle.
Neither the Cosmos Club or the BFS survived for long after the war. John Aiken wrote of the final days of the CSC that:
"...with the dispersal of the more active members to the Forces, to other jobs, and to increasing domestic responsibilities, and with the growth of that sloth which is now almost nation-wide so far as non-essential activity is concerned, began the decline. Members could no longer screw themselves up to write for or even criticise the magazines; they could not decide whether they wished to attend meetings until it was too late; the treasurer could not bring himself to collect the new year's subscriptions; finally no-one could be found to take on any of the club duties. The last issue of BEYOND -- no. 10 -- appeared a year or so late, in the summer of 1946; no. 11 is still on the stocks. Dennis Tucker's issue of COSMIC CUTS towards the end of that year was the last dying flicker of club activity, describing meetings which had sunk to the level of pub-crawls and theatre-parties, pleasant enough but demanding no individual effort. The library dispersed in one direction, the files of BEYOND in another, the club's balance in a third."
At its height, around the time of EASTERCON, the CSC had had over thirty members, but by the end of 1946 it was no more. The CSC library continued to be available to fans, however, and was held by Jimmy Clay of Lewisham, London, after the club was wound up.
The final issue of the BFS BULLETIN was dated November that same year, the society's last gasp. With the dissolution of the BFS, Ron Holmes and Nigel Lindsay, who at this point made up about half of the remaining active membership, combined its library and chain letter to form a new organisation called the British Fantasy Library. The BFL published an official organ, BOOKLIST (which contained more news and notes than actual booklists). This was not the national organisation fans in the provinces were looking for, however, and many urged fans in London to take the lead and to get British fandom organised. Since the majority of fans lived in London this was a reasonable place to look for leadership but the fans in the capital weren't interested.
The six-year interruption caused by the war had led to a significant change in outlook among those of the London Circle in that there was no desire to re-form the SFA, or to create anything in its place. For the present they were content to remain as they were, an informal, unorganised literary discussion group who met in a pub and talked shop. Given the original nature of the group there had been some trepidation about Gillings and the contributors to the new prozine he was working on swelling the throng. On the face of it he and Carnell were now professional rivals and some thought that Gillings might resent Carnell for getting NEW WORLDS out before Gillings' own FANTASY appeared. Fortunately these fears proved groundless and Gillings and his contributors proved a lively addition to The White Horse meetings.
The immediate post-war period was to prove an inhospitible one for new magazines. FANTASY saw only three issues before folding in August 1947 and NEW WORLDS went to the wall in October of that same year after only three of its own. Knowing that FANTASY was doomed, Gillings started up FANTASY REVIEW in March 1947, a professionally printed fanzine (regarded as more of a semi-prozine by fans of the day) carrying reviews and SF news items. This would see eighteen issues (the final three under the title SCIENCE-FANTASY REVIEW) before being incorporated as a news-chat section in the first two issues of SCIENCE FANTASY when Gillings was given editorship of that prozine in the summer of 1950. The feature was dropped when Carnell took over as editor with the third issue.
Many who lived through this period credit Ken Slater with British fandom's eventual revival nationally. In September 1947 he published OPERATION FANTAST, which went out bound with the BFL's BOOKLIST when Slater took advantage of an offer from Holmes and Lindsay to circulate free of charge any fanzines sent to them. The second issue of OF, dated December but mailed in January 1948, was a separate publication, the first generally available fanzine to see print in Britain in almost a year, and it sparked off the first post-war boom in fanzine publishing. OF remained associated with the BFL and Slater found himself running a department in the organisation that he describes as:
"...a sort of 'bring-and-buy' agency for the BFL's surplus magazines and books -- and, of course, my own material. Officially, the original OPERATION FANTAST was the liaison department of the BFL and it remained that way through most of 1948."
On 25th January 1948, Slater sent out a circular with the news that he was being posted to Germany with B.A.O.R (British Army Of the Rhine), but that OF would continue with the help of Joan Teagle. It also carried the news that Ron Holmes was going into hospital, leaving Lindsay as virtually the only active fan left in Britain. Fortunately, his German exile did not impair Slater's fannish activity unduly and in March he put out the third OF.
Beginning to find their feet again British fans began to think about holding a convention. Ted Carnell appears to have been the first to push the idea, and in the January 1948 OF Trading Supplement, Slater urged interested fans to get in touch with him and passed their names along to Carnell. In the event, however, neither Slater or Carnell would be responsible for the convention that actually came about.
The WHITCON, Britain's first post-war convention, took place on Saturday 15th May 1948. It was put on with little advance publicity but still succeeded in attracting 50 attendees, quite good for those days, and was held at The White Horse. Its organiser was John Newman:
"In 1948 I decided that I would like to attend an SF convention and came to the conclusion that I would have to organise it myself. Ken Chapman gave (calling it a loan but refused to accept repayment) money to arrange things and be certain of covering the expense of the buffet and hire of the upstairs room at the White Horse."
The youngest attendee was undoubtedly Gillings 14 year-old son, Ron, and one of those who couldn't be there, Ken Slater, sent £2 along so that everyone present could have a drink on him. The gathering had A.Bertram Chandler as GoH and was chaired by Gillings. BIS chairman Arthur C.Clarke gave a speech on science and astronautics and reminded his audience that where once the society had been composed mainly of fans it had grown to the point where they now made up no more than 20% of the membership. The BIS was going its own way and would never again have any real effect on British fandom. An auction was held with Ted Tubb as main auctioneer, and most of the money raised was donated to the Big Pond Fund. This was a scheme of Ackerman's originally intended to bring Carnell over to the US for the 1947 Worldcon. The idea of raising money to enable some well-known and popular fan to make a transatlantic trip had first been suggested by D.R.Smith in the December 1941 FWD. British fans were then in favour of establishing a fund that would enable Ackerman to visit them when the war ended but he declined the offer, later setting up the Big Pond Fund in order to bring Carnell to the US. Unfortunately it didn't succeed in raising enough money to send Carnell to the 1947 Worldcon and he ended up going in 1949. Ted Carnell's own speech to the convention started with a progress report on the fund and continued with news of NEW WORLDS. He told them that since the magazine had folded because Pendulum Publications went under and not through any fault in NW (the third and final issue had been over-sold by 3000 copies), it still had a future. The paper situation meant that he couldn't approach another publisher to take over NW, but a few days before the convention he had discussed the possibility of forming a company to finance the magazine with Gillings, Ken Chapman, and Eric Williams. This idea was greeted with great enthusiasm by those present and was to develop further in the months that followed.
Following the convention Carnell continued to discuss his ideas with this group and with John Wyndham, but printing and distribution remained major problems. Then, in July, Vinc Clarke brought along a newcomer to the White Horse. This was Frank Cooper, an ex-RAF officer who was not only a fan and reader of many years standing but a bookseller and librarian with a shop of his own. In one evening of discussion with Cooper, Carnell and his group had sorted out the distribution problems, and with a second they were ready to go ahead and form their company. In September, in the fifth issue of OPERATION FANTAST, Carnell announced that the company would have share capital of £800 and that they were looking for shareholders at £5 a time. So it was that Nova Publications was formed, a fan-financed company that had Wyndham as President and Carnell, Gillings, Chapman, Williams, and Cooper as Directors. On 9th December a letter was sent to investors informing them that the company had been incorporated, and that final documentation was awaited before they could proceed with the allotment of shares, which was to take place at a special meeting of the Directors. NEW WORLDS was duly re-launched in February 1949, with Carnell once again its editor, the start of a long and successful run.
Towards the end of 1948 the BFL underwent a number of changes. Following severe personal problems Holmes dropped out of fandom altogether and was replaced in the BFL by John Gunn, who also became editor of BOOKLIST. Then Lindsay began devoting more and more of his time to non-BFL activities, which led to it ceasing to be a truly active organisation and reverting to the postal lending library it had started out as. At this point OPERATION FANTAST dropped its liaison department by-line and struck off on its own. OF was already going to more people outside the BFL than in it anyway, and would go on to carve its own unique niche in the history of British fandom.
Encouraged by the success of WHITCON (the convention from which the British national convention is numbered), Slater decided the time was now right for a new national fan organisation. On 1st August 1948 he issued 200 copies of a circular titled THE TIME HAS COME, pushing the idea and laid out his own ideas which were more than a little, ah, militaristic. He proposed that there should be a series of levels, from single fans through towns or area groups, county representatives, etc., culminating in a Council. Each fan would register his abilities and resources with the next higher formation and orders from the Council would be transmitted to him through this chain. As someone later commented: "All it needed was a uniform and a Fieldmarshall". Nevertheless, Slater aroused enough response to bring about a small conference on 26th September at the Mitcham, Surrey, home of Owen Plumridge, attended by Frank Fears, Vinc Clarke, John Newman, Jimmy Clay, and Slater himself (then home on leave from Germany). This was followed by an open meeting of London fans on 9th October. The organisation that resulted was the Science Fantasy Society. It was to last three years, and at its height to attract some 150 members. The first issue of its official organ, SCIENCE FANTASY NEWS, was published before the end of the year. Its editor was Vinc Clarke. Clarke had first discovered fandom via the pre-war Science Fiction Service, but though he had had a piece in the March 1940 WAR DIGEST and been an early subscriber to FWD, he didn't really become active at that time. In 1942, having previously been in Reserved Occupation manufacturing machine-guns, he was called-up by the RAF and sent to Iceland, losing all touch with fandom. It wasn't until his de-mob, following a spell in Germany in 1946, that he re-established contact and became truly active. He would go on to become one of the most important fans of the following decade.
Spring brought a minor rennaissance in British fan publishing. There was the first issue of WONDER, from Mike Tealby of Leicester, the second SCIENCE FICTION NEWS carrying the news that Ted Tubb had replaced John Newman on the SFS committee, an SFN BULLETIN announcing a convention in London at Easter, and an issue of Norman Ashfield's ALEMBIC.
Over Easter 1949, the warmest Easter anyone could remember, some 70 SF fans assembled in the upper room of The Lord Raglan on St.Martins le Grand for the LONCON, the first convention of the new SFS. GoH was Bill Temple, and as usual the proceedings were fairly serious. Reports on the progress of the SFS were presented by secretary Frank Fears, treasurer Owen Plumridge, and Vinc Clarke, which led to a desultory debate as to what its objectives should be. Ted Carnell wasn't at the con, having come down with vaccination fever following early preparations for his trip to the US to attend the Worldcon.
In the summer of 1949, Vinc Clarke gave up his job operating an eighteen-foot grinding machine in a local factory to try selling books in Stoke Newington. This was a poor but bustling part of London some three or four miles North of the City and also home to the Fantasy Book Centre, which was run by Frank Cooper. The shop catered to such under-the-counter fantasies as those put out by Olympia Press, but the main stock of the shop was SF and fantasy. As Vinc later recalled:
"To work in such a business was, for a new Faan, a slightly commercialised dream of heaven, but there was a snag. The journey from Welling was long, tedious, uncertain, and expensive. I looked around for a flat. I mentioned the problem at the weekly London Circle meeting at the White Horse in Fetter Lane, and some stand in for the Fickle Finger of Fate said 'I hear that Ken Bulmer is looking for someone to share his place'. I was slightly awed. Although he was only a year older, Ken was at least a fan-generation before me, having published a fanzine in the early '40s. In '49, I was still struggling with a flat-bed duplicator and the early issues of SCIENCE FANTASY NEWS.
Ken wasn't a regular visitor to the White Horse, but he did come that night, we were introduced, I discovered that Ken's flat at 84 Drayton Park, Highbury, was about two miles from the FBC, and he didn't mind sharing it with someone with a sort of puppylike new love of fandom and fans. As it happened, the sharing started sooner than anticipated; losing the train after a long and possibly drunken evening at the pub, I toiled along to the large, gloomy, Victorian terraced no. 84 and woke Ken by throwing pebbles against his second-floor window..."
He moved in, and his enthusiasm so infected Bulmer that, according to Clarke:
"...soon it seemed as though there was only one intensely active fan living at the flat, which I named the Epicentre, the centre of an earthquake, intending it to be a place around which Things Happened."
The Epicentre would become as celebrated a fannish gathering place as the pre-war Flat had been, and its occupants would need all their enthusiasm. With Slater stationed in Germany the work of actually running the Science Fantasy Society was eventually, inevitably, to devolve onto them.
So, things were coming together but recovery was still slow, however, and fanzines were still rare enough for each new title to cause excitement; but this would soon change. Although no-one could have known it, at the time of the WHITCON the man who was to have the most impact on fandom in the 1950s had taken his first steps towards contacting his fellow fans and was already planning his first fanzine.